Let me be honest. I love studying the subject of preaching. I want to be a lifelong student of the subject. But if I’m honest, a lot of books about preaching are somewhat dull, tedious, repetitive and unengaging. Not this book. Engaging. Compelling. Motivating. Intriguing. Is it perfect? No. But, I think you should read it.
The book reflects a highly pragmatic authorship. Stanley writes, “I’ve listened to dozens of preachers and teachers whose stated purpose for communicating is changed lives but whose style of communication doesn’t support their purpose. If you are not willing to make adjustments for the sake of your goal then one thing is clear: Your goal is something other than changed lives. Your goal is to keep doing what you’ve always done, to do what’s comfortable.”
What does it take to preach for changed lives? According to Stanley and Jones it involves clear, engaging, relevant and applied truth from God’s Word. This book advocates strongly for one-point sermons. That one point is combination of textual idea, sermonic big idea and sermon purpose. The very slight confusion that comes from combining distinct elements of sermon preparation is worth forgiving for the clarity created in this model.
The book is in two parts. The first part, by Lane Jones, is an extended metaphor that teaches the concepts of the book. A frustrated fictional preacher gets the best preaching education of his life from an unlikely mentor. This narrative is well written, compelling and regularly convicting as well. The agenda is clear in this narrative, but since the agenda is practical skill training rather than a theological hobbyhorse (as in similar books in recent years), I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The second part is Andy Stanley working through the seven principles of the book. I found myself agreeing with so much here. Strong emphasis on the connection built by speaker to listeners, and on surfacing need and interest in the message, and on having a unity in the whole by the use of a main idea (the one point), and application driving every aspect of the message rather than being tacked at the end, and on and on. I found this book interesting, more than that, challenging and motivating.
Reservations about the book? Just one. I wish there was another chapter or two on the Biblical part of the message. I understand Stanley’s five-part progression through a message, and he states that the middle stage, the “God” or Bible presentation stage is the longest one. But what does that look like? He explains that we shouldn’t be superficial, or overwhelm with too much information. But what should we do in that part? This omission could be taken in a couple of different ways. Someone with a strong commitment to the Bible and exposition might try the Stanley model with a solid biblical core. Someone without that same commitment may preach a biblically weak idea birthed out of their own experience. The book allows for both. I wish it were stronger on the former. I’m left wondering . . . on the one hand I know who his Dad is, and I know where he studied, both clues lead me to expect a very biblical tendency. On the other hand the book is inconclusive. I am left looking for an opportunity to watch some of his messages on the internet to see how the theory works out in practice. In fact, I am highly motivated to do that. And I suspect I might be very pleased by what I see. If you read the book, do the same and let me know what you think.
The reservation is not a really a critique, it’s more of a yearning for more. This book is well worth reading. It will breathe new life into your preaching and your motivation for preaching. I honestly think that all of us would improve as preachers by reading and implementing at least some of what this book teaches.